Stephen McPhetres (1941 - 2015)

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There are many qualities about lifelong Alaskan and educational administrator Steve McPhetres that stand out for his friends and family. Steve did a lot in his 74 years. He was a musician, teacher, athlete, friend, father, brother, uncle, grandfather, colleague, gracious host, and Jan's beloved husband.
He died on November 24 at Harborview Medical Center following a fall while deer hunting in Funter Bay.
Stephen Thomas McPhetres was born September 7, 1941, to Samuel Augustus McPhetres an Episcopal priest and rector of Holy Trinity Episcopal Church and Josephine Margaret (McLaughlin) McPhetres, homemaker and later Clerk of the Supreme Court of Alaska. He was born in Kansas, but when asked, he would always reply, "I was raised in Alaska."
Steve graduated from Juneau Douglas High School in 1959 and earned a BA in Music Education at Willamette University in 1963.
Steve taught music at Nome High School from 1963-1965 and at Sheldon Jackson Junior College in Sitka from1965-1967, where he fell in love with dietitian Jan Vallem. They got married on February 17, 1967, and took 14 students to France that summer.
They moved to Fairbanks where he taught music at Lathrop High School and earned a Master's in Educational Administration from the University of Alaska. In 1969, Steve was hired in Haines, Alaska, as the principal, librarian, and cheerleading coach, becoming superintendent by default when the previous one left abruptly. Gary Matthews, former Haines teacher and head of the Alaska Association of School Activities, says Steve excelled in all roles. "He had a really good cheerleading squad too." Steve spearheaded the construction of the Haines Swimming Pool and started the Southeast Alaska Honor Music Festival, showcasing music to small towns in Southeast.
Steve was a popular school superintendent in often-contentious Haines from 1969-1986. "He fired me and I still loved him," Nancy Schnabel says. Steve hired and released her in the same year due to a decline in enrollment. "He even made that a pleasant experience."
As superintendent, the McPhetres family hosted faculty dinners at their home, Steve joined the fire department, performed in Haines musicals, sang in a barbershop quartet, was a Boy Scout leader and even played Santa for many Haines families.
Steve remained superintendent until 1986 when he moved to Juneau to become the Executive Director of the Alaska Council of School Administrators where he mentored administrators and lobbied for school funding until retiring in 1998. Former Anchorage superintendent Carol Comeau says she was lucky to have Steve as her mentor. "I will always be grateful for Steve's strong leadership in education." He continued to work part-time until 2005 as an educational consultant.
Fellow educator and friend Jerry Schoenberger says Steve had two defining traits. "Steve was an attentive listener and he treated everyone with respect."
Steve was instrumental in helping rebuild Holy Trinity Episcopal Church after the fire. He sang as a cantor, was inducted to the Society of St. Simeon and St. Anna, helped with community events, and prepared and delivered donated food boxes. Rector Gordon Blue says that while some retirees withdraw from community service, "with Steve, he was just getting started."
Steve embraced the Juneau running community and finished ten marathons after age 50, including Boston twice and all 10 legs of the Klondike Road Relay. A highlight was running the Chilkoot Trail of '98 in 1998 in about ten hours. Friend Nancy Jones says Steve agreed that, "one of the best meals we've ever eaten was Jan's homemade soup and bread after we walked out the railroad tracks to Log Cabin."
After retiring, Steve and Jan worked together at NorthStar Trekking in Juneau. He enjoyed hiking in the mountains of Europe and Juneau with Jan. He sang with several Juneau Musical groups, enjoyed fishing, and other outdoor activities.
Wendy McPhetres is a music teacher in Bremerton, WA, she and her father co-directed six school musicals there. "My dad was a pretty great guy and an amazing dad. Sam and I were very lucky. I was lucky to be able to spend a lot of my adult years hiking with him, singing in Edinburgh, Scotland, at the Fringe Festival and at Willamette University alumni choir events."
"Dad was always doing something nice for others without wanting recognition. He was a true example of charity and humanity." says Sam McPhetres, technology director and teacher for the Haines Schools.
The family is grateful to the friends who cared for him with compassion and love; Joel Bennett, Rick Caulfield, Noah Jenkins and Del and Wayne Carnes.
Steve leaves wife Jan (Juneau), children Wendy (Bremerton, WA), Sam (Shannon) (Haines), grandchildren Owen and Emily; sister Johanna (Roy) Smith (Juneau), nieces Amber (David) Butler (Seattle, WA), Kiersten (Mark) Johnson (Seattle, WA), Dorian Smith (Seattle, WA), and nephew Scott (Suzanne) Potter (Seattle, WA); brother Sam McPhetres (Saipan), niece Jo McPhetres (Seattle, WA) and Sam (Jan) McPhetres (Guam); nephew David "Mac" (Tina) McPhetres (Eagle River, AK) and niece Shauna (Jaeson) Hawes (Martinez, CA). He was preceded in death by his parents and brother Dr. David McPhetres.
There will be a memorial service celebrating Steve's life at Holy Trinity Episcopal Church December 28 at 5:30 p.m.
Donations in Steve's memory may be made to Holy Trinity Episcopal Church, 415 Fourth Street, Juneau, AK 99801 or to Juneau Arts and Humanities Council for a Music Scholarship in his name at
Published in The Juneau Empire from Dec. 11, 2015 to Jan. 10, 2016